The Trump administration announced Thursday that it plans to make massive cuts to programs that promote health care enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, CBS reported.
Health and Human Services officials told reporters via a phone conference Thursday that advertising spending will be cut to $10 million for the 2018 open enrollment season. That number marks a 90% cut from the previous year’s budget.
Moreover, the Associated Press reported, funding for “navigators,” who are people who assist consumers searching for health care and help them through the process of proving citizenship and estimating their income, will be cut by nearly 40%, from $62.5 million for 2017, to $36.8 million for the 2018 enrollment season.
The officials told reporters that the advertisement budget was being cut because the administration believes it’s not getting enough “bang for its buck.” The official added that the navigator program budget was also being slashed, but only because of the performance-based metric that penalizes them for failing to meet their sign-up targets.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the budget move a “cynical effort to lower enrollment” that would the cuts will “create chaos” and ultimately increase premiums, the AP reported.
“The surest way to kill the exchanges is to keep them a secret,” Timothy Jost, a consumer advocate at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, told Vox. “Sick people will find them, but getting younger and healthier people enrolled is the problem.”
When asked by a reporter on the call about if they had actually studied the effects of advertising on enrollment, one official (who asked not to be named) said, “We haven’t done a specific study related to the public awareness of the program.” The official added, “I think most Americans are aware of the program at this point in time.”
As Vox reported, advertising does appear to help inform the public and get more people to sign up. It pointed to a 2017 study published in the journal Health Affairs that found, “counties exposed to higher volumes of local insurance advertisements during the first open enrollment period experienced larger reductions in their uninsurance rates than other counties.”
According to TIME, there are currently 12.2 million Americans enrolled in ACA plans. Health insurance sign-ups under the health care law are scheduled to start on Nov. 1.